TORONTO — Canada will change its law to allow homosexual marriage, joining Belgium and the Netherlands as the only countries where same-sex couples can legally wed, Prime Minister Jean Chretien announced Tuesday.
Chretien said the new law would be drafted within weeks and submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada for review, then put to a Parliament vote. His Liberal Party has a commanding majority in the legislature, though the issue has caused division in the Liberal caucus.
The announcement means the government decided against appealing recent court rulings that declared the nation's definition of marriage unconstitutional because it specified the union of a man and a woman. An Ontario appeals court last week declared that wording invalid, changing it to a union between two people.
"There is an evolution of society," Chretien said in making the announcement after a Cabinet meeting. He said the law would allow religions the right to decide which marriages should be sanctified.
Opinion polls indicate a slight majority of Canadians favor legalizing same-sex marriages. After the Ontario appeals court ruling and previous similar ones by courts in British Columbia and Quebec, the government was under pressure to change the law or file appeals that would have left the issue unsettled.
Justice Minister Martin Cauchon said the new law would redefine marriage as called for by the courts while protecting religious freedoms.